Sans Souci Public School was established in 1885, and today it strives to provide academic, cultural and sporting excellence. While teaching and learning in literacy and numeracy are emphasised, students are also offered a wide variety of extra-curricular programs in creative and performing arts, technology and sport. The school has a diverse population and Greek and French language programs are offered to students. Many parents, indeed grandparents, of present students attended the school. This tradition is the foundation for strong community involvement in many school activities.
In November 2009 the school held a White Ribbon Day event with a series of age-appropriate student activities. Children made white doves to symbolise peace and non-violence, and these were displayed on the school fence in full view of the public. On White Ribbon Day staff members wore white clothing and White Ribbon wrist bands to reinforce the day’s message. In collaboration between Sans Souci Public School and four local secondary schools, year 6 boys participated in a series of half-day activities that included presentations from White Ribbon Ambassadors and national rugby league (NRL) players. To ensure the program was understood and supported by the whole school community, liaison was co-ordinated with the school executive, staff, Student Representative Council (SRC), members of the Parents and Carers Group and the School Council. The White Ribbon Day event was used as a springboard to launch a respectful culture program throughout the school in 2010.
To give the students the opportunity to contribute to the implementation of culture change in the school, the Principal met with the SRC on a regular basis. SRC members also liaised with each class about messages that could appear on the school sign and sought suggestions from students about White Ribbon Day activities. As a result it was decided that every class would make a large white dove (symbolising peace) and that each student would attach their own personal white ribbon to the dove.
From the beginning the principal set out to engage staff in the White Ribbon Day event and ongoing culture change. Shortly after the first workshop in 2009, he made a presentation at a staff meeting to explain the context, concepts and statistics concerning the incidence of violence against women as the basis for change, and the staff group agreed to support efforts to introduce culture change in the school. Actions were identified, including the incorporation of respectful behaviours information into the Anti-Bullying Policy. Staff were also invited to attend a series of consultations with parents and carers to contribute to the development and implementation of the policy.
As he introduced the scaled-up program in 2010, the principal saw himself as a role model and took a strong leadership role to encourage members of the school community to be involved in the process of change. All members of the school community were consulted, including staff, parents, carers and students. A clear statement about the school valuing ‘respect, responsibility, excellence, fairness, tolerance, and honesty for all’ was communicated to the whole school community via the school’s website, annual report and a series of meetings with teachers, parents and students. The school adopted a whole, health promoting school framework for the introduction of change.
School ethos and environment
To ensure that the school ethos and environment provide a safe and supportive setting for all students, staff and community members, systemic change is needed to ensure that culture change can flourish. This involves policy change, its communication and consistent application, within a framework of well-articulated underlying principles and values. It was within this framework that Sans Souci Public School set about introducing culture change.
A review of the Student Welfare and Discipline Policy was carried out. As a result, the school’s ‘detention room’ and ‘yellow card’ system were seen as ineffective and punitive. The revised policy replaced the old system of discipline with a system of positive reinforcement and recognition of students adhering to the school’s stated core values. The use of a warning and reminder system, agreed to by all teachers for dealing with inappropriate behaviour, involves parents at an early stage before problems can escalate. Parent/carer information sessions were held to explain these changes and engage the wider school community in reinforcing the school’s values in discipline and welfare.
The school’s Anti-Bullying Policy was revised to incorporate the value of respect. It defines procedures for reporting bullying and describes the levels of support available to all students. The policy is based on an understanding of gender and power (‘no one should be victimised on the basis of their gender’) and uses the slogan created by the children for White Ribbon Day that no-one should be ‘violent or silent about abuse’. The policy acknowledges the right of every student to be accepted and respected regardless of diversity, and calls for all members of the school community to work together to develop a school culture that encourages respectful relationships and does not accept bullying in any form. It was publicised throughout the school community and to other schools as an example of a comprehensive culture change policy.
The involvement of students in the development and implementation of the Anti-Bullying Policy was seen as critical to its success. The policy makes clear that students have a right to be respected, a responsibility to treat everyone with courtesy, kindness and respect regardless of diversity and gender, and that non-sexist language is favoured.
To support the revised policy the Bully Busters program was introduced. In 2011 teachers produced a Bully Busters training DVD. As the program progressed, a team of Stage 3 students were trained as peer mediators, or Bully Busters, in the playground to help manage low-level bullying incidents in line with the Anti-Bullying Policy. Teachers and other students are able to refer issues of bullying or conflict to these Bully Busters who are identified by the Bully Buster jackets they wear in the playground.
Curriculum, teaching and learning
At Sans Souci Public School changes were made to the curriculum to address various forms of violence and target its root causes and violence-supportive attitudes. The changes were based on six key learning areas: English, Mathematics, Human Society and Its Environment, Science and Technology, Creative and Performing Arts, and Personal Development and Health. Gender issues were addressed, as appropriate, across the six key learning areas. Furthermore, staff developed 10 explicit, stage-based, anti-bullying lessons. The lessons covered specific topics over a three-to-four week period, and were provided to every child in the school.
To support staff in the implementation of change in the school community a number of education sessions were held. Conflict was framed as normal and to be expected, and skills for managing conflict were seen as important, as was a common language for resolving conflict and bullying. Staff were responsible for promoting positive relationships that respect individual differences and diversity, for teaching the new anti-bullying curriculum, and for responding consistently to incidents of bullying. They were also responsible for the ongoing evaluation of the policy and for identifying patterns of bullying behaviour using the Bully Busters model.
The support of parents and carers was seen as critical to the successful implementation of the culture change in the school. The Anti-Bullying Policy refers to the responsibility of families and carers to support their children in all aspects of learning, to encourage respect and tolerance in the home, to encourage their child to reject bullying and to model anti-bullying attitudes and behaviour. The policy also outlined parents’ responsibility to help their children to develop positive attitudes, self esteem, confidence and respect for others.
To engage parents and carers in the program the principal sent a copy of the Anti-Bullying Policy under review to every parent and family group. In a letter accompanying the policy the principal invited families to contact the school with suggestions or concerns. The principal also attended a Parents and Carers meeting to seek their feedback and support for the policy changes. This meeting was the most well-attended in the school’s history, and the parents and carers strongly supported the changes in the school’s approach. The Anti-Bullying Policy asks that in the case of conflict at school, parents should first contact the school rather than approaching another child or parent/s, and high levels of compliance with this approach have been noted. Anecdotally, the principal and deputy principal are since dealing with far less conflict in the playground. The teachers in years K-2 report the new program to be invaluable in the playground to assist young children to resolve conflict.
Overall, the school’s culture is seen as moving towards one of ‘mutual respect’, demonstrated by the Values Awards that are distributed each week at years K-2 and 3-6 assemblies. These awards are for students displaying respect, kindness and caring towards other students in any aspect of school life. Introduced in 2010 in line with the new Anti-Bullying Policy, these awards are greatly appreciated by students and parents. Feedback from staff, students and parents has been overwhelmingly positive.